Noelle Gilzow came to Columbia in 1986 and never left.

After earning her degrees from MU, she joined the faculty at Hickman High School as a science teacher, and she continues to teach there to this day.

Last June, she became president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, expressing a desire to advocate for change in the education system.

As president, she leads a group of more than 700 teachers who are united in an effort to advance, promote and protect public education.

Although Gilzow has been a union member since the beginning of her teaching career, she said she became more active in 2016 after a “disappointing” presidential election.

Before becoming president, Gilzow was a member of the political action committee and served as vice president under then-president Kathy Steinhoff.

Getting more involved with legislative forums and strengthening solidarity with other unions brought out a leadership potential others saw in her, including Steinhoff, who encouraged Gilzow to seek the office of president.

“I think you get to a point in your career where you start seeing you’ve established your niche in the classroom, and you start seeing the ability to have an impact in other areas, too,” Gilzow said.

“Around that time, I was like, there’s more I can be doing, not just for students but for the community of teachers and the state of education.”

Gilzow said Steinhoff had a major impact on the organization. She wants to continue what Steinhoff established, in addition to maintaining and strengthening the relationship between the district and the union.

At monthly meetings, Gilzow explains that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions, said second vice president Teresa Gooch.

“She wants those opportunities to be there for students, and she wants to make sure teachers feel supported in providing those individual classroom opportunities for kids,” Gooch said.

Gilzow pivoted to science after deciding the fields of medicine and law were not for her.

She earned a degree in political science instead, then went back to school to focus on education after her interest in the classroom grew.

A job as a teaching assistant in graduate school solidified her love of working with young people and helping them understand biology and science, she said.

One of her projects was co-creating a new course at Hickman about chemistry and biology in the community.

The course teaches students how to apply the topics in the real world if college isn’t in their future plans.

“She can take a topic and spin it in a way that any kid can grasp that not necessarily anyone else would have thought of,” former Hickman High School science teacher Rachel Tinsley said about Gilzow.

Tinsley described Gilzow’s classroom atmosphere as supportive, creative and a bit on the fun side.

Gilzow said she’s learned that every student has something to offer. During trying times at the beginning of the pandemic, Gilzow still found ways to support those students throughout the chaos.

As an example, she asked her AP biology students about their favorite soups, and her students soon found cans of soup on the doorstep, hand-delivered by Gilzow.

“That’s who she is as a human,” Tinsley said. “Above and beyond doesn’t even begin to cut it.”

One thing her colleagues agree on: Gilzow is a strong advocate for everyone in the education system.

“She’s what makes CPS a better place,” Tinsley said.

  • Community reporter, spring 2022 Studying reporting and writing Reach me at mamq42@mail.missouri.edu

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